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After Abbas speech, Smotrich once again rejects any coalition backed by Ra’am

Religious Zionism head calls on Bennett and Sa’ar to join a ‘real right-wing government,’ dealing blow to Netanyahu as he meets with Yamina head

Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich (L) and Ra'am chairman Mansour Abbas (R). (Sraya Diamant/David Cohen/Flash90)
Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich (L) and Ra'am chairman Mansour Abbas (R). (Sraya Diamant/David Cohen/Flash90)

Religious Zionism party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich said Friday that his party will not sit in a government that is dependent on any support from Mansour Abbas and his Islamist Ra’am party.

“We will not be a partner in any government that leans actively or by the abstention of Ra’am or other terror supporters,” Smotrich said.

He spoke a day after Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas gave a primetime speech in which he called for Arab-Jewish cooperation in Israel and urged Jewish parties not to boycott his conservative Islamist party.

Smotrich made similar comments rejecting Ra’am a week ago.

Calling on Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Yamina party, and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar to join a “real right-wing government,” Smotrich said that “the Jewish nation will not forgive them if they miss the chance.”

Smotrich issued his statement as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was about to meet with Bennett, and it appeared to deal a blow to the premier’s hopes that he could form a government. Netanyahu has 52 lawmakers behind him, nine short of the 61 needed for a majority. Bennett’s 7-seat Yamina could lift him to 59.

Then-MKs Gideon Sa’ar, right, and Naftali Bennett in the Knesset plenum on February 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Abbas, whose Islamist party won four seats in the Knesset, has thus emerged as an unlikely possible kingmaker after last week’s inconclusive election. Though he has expressed willingness to partner with either Netanyahu or his rivals — whichever offered a better deal benefiting Arab Israelis — he has yet to endorse a candidate.

Ra’am could possibly put either Netanyahu or his opponents over the 61-seat mark, crowning the next premier. But right-wing politicians, both in the pro-Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu bloc, have ruled out basing a coalition on the party’s support, due to what they say is an anti-Zionist stance; others have accused Ra’am of supporting terrorists.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas and party members at the party headquarters in Tamra, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Flash90)

Smotrich’s declaration came as Bennett was meeting with Netanyahu to hold negotiations on possibly forming a coalition government, in their first sit-down since last week’s inconclusive elections.

Bennett will meet Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Saturday night, for the same purpose, Yamina said in a statement Thursday.

Following the elections, Bennett has been demanding that he become prime minister in a power-sharing deal with either Lapid or Netanyahu, despite his party only having seven Knesset seats. Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats in the elections, 30, while Yesh Atid is the second-largest party with 17.

Lapid met Thursday with leaders of the Joint List party, an alliance of predominantly Arab member parties. The Joint List leaders did not commit to giving him their support and reiterated that they will not consider recommending Lapid unless he receives 55 other MKs’ recommendations.

The meeting was not attended by Balad head Sami Abou Shahadeh, who has said his faction within the Joint List will not recommend anyone for prime minister. The remaining five MKs of the party are widely expected to endorse Lapid for prime minister, but if even he receives the prerequisite 55 recommendations, the Joint List would still only take him to 60 MKs.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

That would leave Lapid still needing Yamina’s cooperation to oust Netanyahu, strengthening Bennett’s hand.

Hebrew media reported Thursday that while Bennett has not yet decided who he will recommend to President Reuven Rivlin, he has all but ruled out Lapid and likely will submit his own name, rather than back Netanyahu either.

Sa’ar, leader of the New Hope party which is also seeking to replace Netanyahu, is reportedly working to broker an alternate coalition that would see Bennett rotate the premiership with Lapid. However, the idea is said to be hampered by disputes over who should actually be tasked with forming the coalition, with both sides skeptical of the other’s commitment to follow through on the power-sharing agreement.

Before the election, both Sa’ar and Bennett said they want to see Netanyahu removed from power, but also vowed not to let Lapid be prime minister.

Lapid has already met with Abbas seeking his support to become prime minister.

During Abbas’ speech, which was carried live by all of Israel’s major television networks, he did not endorse either Netanyahu or Lapid as the next premier, following last week’s inconclusive election. He also declined to associate his party with either political bloc.

Ra’am previously ran for the Knesset as part of the Joint List but broke off ahead of last week’s vote for an independent run, amid disagreements over Abbas’s political willingness to back Netanyahu.

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